The leadership we are to follow - Romans 15:14-33
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Well it's happened again. This City & region has come at the wrong end of more league tables.
Apparently to add to our results on secondary school exam scores, unwanted teenage pregnancies & church attendance figures, we have the lowest average household income in the country & what's more our Police force is bottom of a league table a poignant result given the shenanigans this week concerning the Chief Constable of Humberside & the Soham murder case.
Given that the people of this area have so much going for them, each time such results appear, we wonder why there are so many negative indicators?
There are a great many theories, some no doubt more plausible than others, but it is sometimes said that a key reason is, Leadership (or lack of it).
Some say we've not been good at developing local leadership which has the vision or ability to take the area forward & overcome some of our historical challenges others would say that we are beginning to get this right & that locally lead initiatives are beginning to bear fruit.
Well whatever the truth of these different views, it's hard to deny that leadership is vital to the effectiveness of any organisation, team or even region.
As we continue our sermon series looking at the letter to the Roman Christians we find probably the greatest leader God has ever given his Church (the Apostle Paul) drawing what is probably his greatest letter, to a conclusion.
Paul has outlined the content of the wonderful good news of Jesus: the mercy of God in the gospel, & he's outlined something of what it means to live in the light of God's mercies.
As he writes ch 15 we see something of the characteristics of his life & service as one of the uniquely authoritative Apostles of Jesus - & when we see these characteristics through the eyes of the rest of the NT we see something of what genuine Christian leadership is really like leadership we should follow today.
Do turn to p1141 & you'll find an outline on notes -
A Ministry which is;
1) Priestly v16-17
Paul begins his conclusion by affirming the Christians in Rome. He's had to be quite forceful in helping them see some of the implications of the gospel but he tells them he has confidence in them that God is at work & has gifted them v14I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
Even though v15I have written to you quite boldly on some points.."
He gives them 2 reasons for having been being so robust; To remind them (we are always in need of being called back to the essential things of the gospel don't ever despise being reminded of the gospel the Apostles often reminded their churches eg Phil 3:1, Heb 2:1, 1Jn2:21). And the 2nd reason? Because Paul has authority from God to bring a message from God. It's as he explains that fact, that he uses some surprising language;
Look at v15I have written to you quite boldly on some points as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.
Remember this Church was made up of people who had come to believe in Jesus from a Jewish background & others from a gentile, non Jewish, pagan background. This was what was behind the tensions they were experiencing as we saw last week & their need to "accept one another just as Christ accepted you" (15:7). Well Paul speaks of his leadership in terms familiar to readers of the Jewish OT.
He describes himself v16 as a "minister" (literally a leitourgos leader of religious ceremonies). He speaks of his role as a "priestly duty;" being like an OT Temple Official dealing with sacrifices. And he says he's involved in "offerings" which are "acceptable to God" (like in the OT temple) & things that are "sanctified," a word used of sacrifices set apart for religious use.
Now Paul (& his fellow Apostles) knew that this whole OT sacrificial system was given by God to point forward to a fulfilment which has now come in Jesus (Hebs10:1f). The Temple & priests & sacrifices are now obsolete because Jesus is the great High priest, Jesus offered himself in a way acceptable to God, Jesus was the sacrifice offered once for all that all God's people may come directly into his presence forgiven & accepted.
This is why it's not really appropriate to call a church minister a "priest" as many Catholic Christians do only Jesus is our priest in this sense of offering a sacrifice to win forgiveness & all Christians are priests in the sense of being able to come directly into the presence of God (1Pet2:9) (Incidentally the Church of England retained the word "priest" at the Reformation when it rejected the unbiblical Catholic ideas, because the English word "priest" is a contraction of the old English for the NT word "presbyter" or elder - the recognised & authorised leader & teacher in the local church).
Paul here is happy to use this language of priesthood & sacrifice to illustrate what we might call his evangelistic ministry; the task of Christians to share the gospel of Jesus & see people respond to God through it.
Paul says that as he made known the rescuing message of Jesus to non Jews (those previously seen as unclean, excluded from the Temple & it's rituals, totally without hope of a relationship with God) he saw some respond by trusting in Jesus & his death on the cross. They then became an "offering" to God they were "acceptable to God", they were "set apart" for his use. (P)
Now as an Apostle to the Gentiles Paul's ministry was unique but there is a principle here true for all Christian leaders & all involved in sharing the good news all Christians.
Those who become believers through our sharing of the gospel are "offerings" to God they bring glory to God. The Christian witness who sees people converted is engaging in an act of worship.
The Christian messenger becomes a kind of priestly intermediary by bringing the gospel of God, with the help of the Spirit of God so that non Christians are reconciled to God.
What a vision for Christian leadership & witness today what a great privilege sharing the gospel of Jesus is, that those who turn to Him become offerings of worship & in turn join in the same mission to a needy world. No wonder Paul gets excited about his ministry; v17Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God."
The leadership we should follow, then, will set this evangelistic example.
See with Paul a ministry which is;
2) Powerful v18,19
So often because of their positions, leaders can be regarded unhealthily as themselves the source of success, the reason for progress, the cause of growth yet Paul here points away from himself & shows that real Christian leadership is based not on human ability or skill but on God's power.
v18I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through meAnything of real lasting value is what Christ does through his instruments. Now of course the Christian leader has a part to play, it's not an impersonal mechanical ministry where God overrides an individual to get his work done; Paul shows elsewhere that his ministry involved long hours & hard labouring (Col 1:29), indeed it is v18 "by what I have said & done" & yet it's Christ who does the real work.
It's less what we do for him, as what he accomplishes through his servants. This perspective helps those who lead & those who follow see that the kudos, the honour, the "glory" belongs to Jesus & not to us.
Paul's evangelistic task, what he calls "leading the Gentiles to obey God" (that is sharing the gospel & inviting people to respond in faith to God's gospel) is something that was only successful because of God's power. It happened as Paul spoke & acted v19 "by what I have said and done-- 19by the power of signs and miracles (&) through the power of the Spirit."
Paul may have had many gifts, perhaps the most remarkable gifts God has given to an individual leader ever who knows, yet the source of his effectiveness was not himself, it was God.
Now for Paul, God used him to perform "signs & miracles" extraordinary supernatural actions that demonstrated God's kingdom had come in Jesus
& that he's powerful over nature. Now interestingly Paul lists these very things as characteristic "signs of a true Apostle" in 2Cor 12;12. God may choose to work miracles through his leaders He's the sovereign creator after all, but we're not encouraged in the NT to see this as a central part of the on going leadership function of the church. Signs & miracles seemed to be especially helpful to authenticate the one-off ministry of the Apostles as the foundations of the Christian faith were being laid.
Instead the NT emphasis for church leaders after the Apostles as they tell us themselves is the command to "preach the word!" (2Tim 4:1). Something central for Paul of course anyway v19 "I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ". (p)
Paul speaks of the "power of signs & miracles" & of the "power of the Spirit." As if he's talking of something in addition.
We learn in the other parts of Paul's writings that he describes the word of God as the "sword of the Spirit" (Ephs 6:17). So it is the work of the Holy Spirit to take the word he inspired & had written down in our Bibles & bring it to life in the hearts & minds of hearers. It's only as he does this, that anyone can respond to God in faith.
True Christian ministry in this sense has to be powerful ministry if there is no powerful work of the Holy Spirit no one can be converted, no one can be built up in the faith, no church family can grow properly. Paul when speaking to the Corinthians tells them how his ministry to them was not "with eloquence or superior wisdomhe] resolved to know nothing while [with them] except Christ & him crucifiedmessage & preaching were not with wise & persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power (1Cor 2:1ff) You see the Holy Spirit took the words of the gospel, home to hearts & minds. His power was demonstrated in human weakness & the giving of new birth & conversion.
One of the most famous & admired preachers of the last 150 years Charles Haddon Spurgeon spoke of how he would ascend the pulpit steps before he preached reciting under his breath; "I believe in the Holy Spirit , I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit".
That's the right sort of confidence to encourage in our leaders & in each other; that the Holy Spirit would do this work in his appointed way.
Now tell me if you're a home group leader or teach children in a group is this not where your confidence is placed? You can't rely on your own ability can you? It's no good thinking your skills or personality can help people? No, what we need is the Spirit of God to make real the word of God.
The leadership we should aspire to be & to follow will be a powerful ministry.
Also a ministry which is;
3) Pioneering v19-22
Now Paul tells the Romans that as he has been involved in this "priestly" evangelistic ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit he is always looking to break new ground, to reach new people, to pioneer the work of the gospel.
V19 "So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. 21Rather, as it is written: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand."
As an Apostle Paul was looking to be a pioneer. In this geographical arc from (in today's terms) Israel to Albania & Macedonia he had spent 10 years evangelising. Such is Christ's work through him that he can say "I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ." Now not everyone in the area had heard, but churches had been started strategically in the major cities & they in turn took on the work of spreading the message to their surrounding area. Paul had fulfilled his mission, in v23 he can say "there is no more place for me to work in these regions" but he wasn't going to leave it at that, he had the spread of the gospel to Spain in mind!
Now no one is an Apostle today in the way Paul was. And not every Christian leader will be a pioneer in the sense of planting new churches or travelling to unreached areas. In fact most Christian leaders are rooted in a community through a local church but there is a reminder here of the necessary concern for those outside the current fellowship.
We must always be considering how to reach those who haven't yet heard, to be looking for ways of reaching out to those currently beyond the influence of the gospel. This will mean taking risks on occasions, possibly rocking the boat a little in order to push the boundaries so that more & more have the chance to hear of Jesus, it will mean being patient & experimenting & not giving up if things are initially difficult.
This sort of pioneering lead, calls for support from church members, it demands our understanding when our immediate interests as the already-committed don't seem as high on the agenda.
Indeed Paul tells the Christians here in Rome that it is his priority of trailblazing evangelism to new areas, that has stopped him coming to visit & encourage them before (v22).
This preparedness to be creative, even experimental is something we need more of in our current cultural situation we can't simply expect people to turn up at church like they may have done a generation or two ago. And anyway this looking beyond ourselves, reflects the very pioneering act of God himself in coming to earth as a man in Jesus it reflects the concern of God for all kinds of people illustrated here in Romans by the concern for gentiles (who were traditionally considered beyond the scope of God's interest) as well as Jews (who had been considered insiders in God's purposes.)
The leadership we should follow then, will have a pioneering dimension.
A ministry which is
4) Personal v23-29
Along with his clear priorities & passion for the gospel, what comes over in Rom 15 is Paul's personal concern his ministry is not merely about strategy & planning & he is certainly not brash & insensitive. Paul is concerned for people.
As he outlines his ministry to the Romans he tells them v 23 "I have been longing for many years to see you.." He goes on, that he hopes to see them whilst on his way to taking the gospel to Spain, but before that he has another personal, people role to fulfil. The situation in Jerusalem was rough for Christians & some of the Greek believers had a financial contribution to make to them, & Paul is going to take it himself even though it involves a 2000 mile detour!
You see Christian leadership may have to be thoughtful & strategic, it may involve (as Paul here) being bold in getting the message out or correcting errors, yet it is fundamentally about being lovingly concerned for people in the name of Christ.
If you're involved in leadership youth work, Bible study groups, visiting, women's ministry do you pray that God would give you more love for those you serve, that people not just programmes, souls & not just systems would concern you?
That brings us to a 5th & final mark of a Christian leadership.
It is sadly possible as we've seen to have wrong views of our leaders the especially gifted ones we can think seem to be able to do & achieve so much! Many may have thought that about the Apostle Paul & yet we see here something vital v30I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.
5) Christian leadership is a Prayer-dependant Ministry v30-32.
Prayer is so important to the forwarding of God's purposes & indeed Paul here sees the prayers of others as a joining in with his ministry. Prayer is a part of the work of Christian leadership & service the leader will pray but others need to pray for the leader & join in, literally "co agonise" with the leader, that God would bless their work.
It's certainly a great encouragement to me to know of people's prayers eg that the preachers names each week are in the parish prayer diary given out at start of month. There are many opportunities to join in the work of others by prayer eg This Wed eve in the Parish hall why not come & join in the struggle of the our Mission Partners working amongst immigrants in the Midlands by praying for them?
When you pray for leaders you could use these headings from Rom 15 to get you going. So much happens through Christian leaders because of the prayers of others.
The leadership we should follow will be prayer-dependant.
Leadership may be lacking in many areas of modern life but what the world really needs is Christian leadership. And as the example of the Apostle Paul here shows us, Christian leadership should be just that Christ ian.
It's all about Jesus Christ the ultimate leader. As Paul sees it Christian leadership is what Christ "accomplishes through" his people (v18). And we've seen some of this outlined; it is Priestly (it serves Christ in proclaiming the gospel). It's powerful (it shows the working of Christ through His Spirit). It's pioneering (engages in the Mission of Christ). It's personal (it has the people of Christ at it's heart) & it's prayer-dependant (reliant on the God & Father of Jesus Christ.)
That is the leadership we should seek to be, to support, to pray for & to follow.
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